Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 20th 2015 Contents AUGUST 20 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
REGIONAL | BG21
Such is the power of a sym-
bol: A planeload of Amer-
ican journalists is due to fly
to Cuba for the day on
August 14 to watch Secre-
tary of State John Kerry raise
the Stars and Stripes and formally reopen
his country s embassy in Havana after 54
However, should the secretary look east-
ward along the Malecon, the seafront of
crumbling, salt-scarred buildings, toward
Old Havana, his view would be obstructed
by a forest of flagpoles and an open-air
stage adorned with the slogan: ¡Patria o
Muerte, Venceremos! ("Fatherland or death,
we shall win!"). It has been used during the
past 15 years or so for anti-imperialist rallies,
and there are no immediate plans to dis-
mantle this theater of agitprop.
The official portrayal in Cuba of the deci-
sion by President Barack Obama and Pres-
ident Raul Castro to restore diplomatic ties
is that it was a victory for Cuban commu-
nism s half-century of stubborn resistance
against the American economic embargo.
The popular reaction was one of euphoria,
a surge of hope that trade, investment,
tourists and the almighty dollar now will
rain down on the island.
Eight months later, euphoria has given
way to cautious expectation tinged with
queasy uncertainty. Many American com-
panies will be unable to do business unless or until
the United States Congress repeals its embargo.
Although Castro has launched potentially far-reaching
reforms of Cuba s sclerotic, centrally planned economy,
these are moving slowly. Less than a quarter of the
work force of five million is employed in the budding
Even so, change is in Havana s humid air. Emissaries
of American business are sniffing around. In the first
seven months of this year, the number of American
tourists rose by more than half compared with the
same period last year, to 89,000; a figure that excludes
Cuban-Americans, of whom 164,000 came. To catch
their business, scores of 1950s American cars have
been lovingly restored. Buick and Pontiac convertibles,
in shocking pink, tomato red or powder blue, line
up outside the tourist hotels. These are full even in
the August low season of broiling heat.
The prospect of an American commercial invasion,
once the embargo is lifted, has galvanised a rush of
European and Latin American trade missions and
"Now that Cuba has relations with the United
States, the country risk has diminished for foreign
investors," said Antonio Romero, an economist at
The government expects the economy to grow by
four per cent this year. To sustain this uptick, addi-
tional investment and exports are essential. The state
bureaucracy moves at a glacial pace, however, espe-
cially when it comes to dealing with foreigners. Offi-
cials are terrified of making decisions, partly because
some of their predecessors were purged for corruption.
The old guard in the Communist Party is suspicious
of change in itself.
"In Cuba ideology is still more important than the
economy," said Orlando Marquez, who edits a Catholic
magazine, "and control is more important than
The thaw with the United States is reinforcing
internal pressures for change, however. The govern-
ment has announced plans to connect Cuba to the
Internet, with a target of broadband in 50 per cent
of homes by 2020. Economists long have argued that
connectivity is essential if Cuba is to make the most
of its educated work force and halt the emigration
of young people.
The big novelty in Havana is free wi-fi points:
Each evening hundreds of Cubans hunch over smart-
phones, tablets and laptops on La Rampa, between
the Habana Libre hotel and the Malecon. Digital pub-
lications are thriving.
"The government has lost its monopoly of infor-
mation," said Ricardo Torres of the Center for the
Study of the Cuban Economy in Havana.
The next milestone is the Communist Party con-
gress in April. For the old guard who made the 1959
revolution, it will be the last such event. Castro has
said that the congress will approve a new economic
plan. There is a "clear demand" to grant more freedom
to the private sector, Torres argued. Paradoxically,
Cuban would-be entrepreneurs face far more restric-
tions than foreign investors.
Beyond that, Cuba s sights are set on 2018, when
Castro has promised to step down as president. By
then the embargo may well be gone. For the past
half-century, Cuba s leaders have used the American
siege of their island to justify one-party rule and a
police state. That will no longer wash.
"The nation, the society, is changing radically at
all levels," Torres said. "It s happening in the minds
of the people."
Thanks to Obama, the United States at last has
disregarded the theater of revolution and is helping
Cuba to write a better script for its future.
@2015 The Economist Newspaper Ltd. Distrib-
uted by the New York Times Syndicate
What's next in Havana?
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